Fiesta Bowl Preview

Saturday, 1 January 2005- 8:30pm
Tempe, Arizona

Pittsburgh (8-3) versus Utah (11-0)

With an LSU loss, the coaching issue now comes to a thrilling conclusion on Saturday night in the Tostito's Fiesta Bowl as both teams will feature head coaches on their way out. Can both teams lose?

First, let's round things up a bit.

It's hard to believe the Bowl season is coming to a close. After staying even for most of the time, the Beach took a horrible downturn on New Year's Eve and has struggled today to pull itself out. A win by Texas will help bring things back to respectability. Picking every bowl game, especially when there are so many in one day, is difficult. Especially with a full time job getting in the way. But it's been an interesting experiment that has presented it's share of challenges.

So, who's done what? Entering the Rose Bowl, underdogs were 13-10 ATS and have won outright 11 of those games. A +400 Wyoming, +340 Arizona State, and +310 Texas Tech were all the big lines to have (the Beach had none of them) and today's Iowa +220 was also a nice run too. So basically, next year, don't take the points. It would be interesting to see how we would do 1) not picking every game, and 2) taking some of the money lines instead. Nonetheless, underdogs have made a statement this year and they're not done yet. It's 14-14 at the half in Pasedena, Va Tech could easily drop Auburn on Monday, and Oklahoma is a small dog in the championship.

But one of the best dogs to have this season maybe Pitt. The Panthers will need to find a way to ease sophomore QB Tyler Palko into this game. Utah will blitz all night long and even though Palko is a son of a football coach and has been around football all his life, this has to be the biggest game of his life so far. The Panthers use a pro-style, timing based offense that will pretty much be feast or famine against the 45th ranked Utah defense.

Everyone knows that Utah is 11-0, but one of the things that impresses me is how well they've played on the road this season. Blowout wins at Arizona, at Utah State, at New Mexico, at San Diego State, and at Wyoming. Sure those aren't big schools, but with the exception of Arizona, they are all conference rivals. Still, it can be argued that they are still untested, but if Boise State can give Louisville all they can handle, there's not really much reason to think that Utah isn't just as good as their 11-0 record says they are. No one prepares himself as a head coach more than Urban Meyer does and don't think he isn't fully aware of the big upsets bowl week has brought us.

So is all that worth two touchdowns? Other than the season opener versus A&M (which they won 41-21) the Utes went 8-2 against double digit lines all season. Pitt, meanwhile covered and won two big underdog games vesus BC and at Notre Dame. So I'd say no to the -14. Instead, look at the money line for Pitt. I see it at +425 right now and that's incredible value for a game like this. The under is also of interest to me, but in the end a 7 point tease is in order here.

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Pitt +21 with under 72 in a 7 point teaser.

Rose Bowl Preview

Saturday, 1 January 2005 - 4:30pm
Pasedena, California

Michigan (9-2) versus Texas (10-1)

Remember all the problems Ohio State's Troy Smith gave this Michigan defense? Well, look out because here comes Vince Young.

Texas faced six bowl teams this season, winning 5 ATS and holding Oklahoma to just 12 points in their lone loss. This team does suffer from being too one dimensional, but against Michigan that shouldn't be a problem. Given the troubles Smith gave the Wolverines in their season finale, expect Michigan to keep spies on both sides of the line of scrimmage in an attempt to contain Young inside the pocket. That should open things up the middle for Cedric Benson, who is one of if not the best running back in the country.

The Wolverines will start a freshman QB and a freshman RB in a bowl game. That's never a good thing. Look at the two games they lost this year. At Notre Dame. At Ohio State. Now they're in Pasedena where you got a whole month to psyche your 18 year old brain out.

With the Cal loss, the pressure is off the Longhorns to show everyone who deserves the Roses. Texas should be able to just come out and play.

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Texas -7 in the best, best bet of the day. (Also, add a 7 point tease with FSU -3 and Texas to win.)

UPDATE: 38-37 Texas. If Young can ever figure out how to throw an accurate 5-15 yard pass, he's gonna be one big superstar. He has a nice touch on his deep passes and is obviously one of the best players in the nation on the run.

Capital One Bowl Preview

Saturday, 1 January 2005 - 1:00pm
Orlando, Florida

LSU (9-2) versus Iowa (9-2)

So far, every team with any kind of coaching issue has not covered their spread. All have lost outright except for Louisville, who were down as much as 13 in the third quarter before rallying to win.

This is Nick Saban's last game with the LSU Tigers and he will face a very dangerous and very pesky Iowa team that seems to thrive when they're playing as an underdog. The Hawkeyes were 4-1-1 ATS when getting points and finished the year 7-3-1 ATS overall. They closed out their regular season with 7 straight wins despite playing most of those games with a slew of fourth string players at running back. Iowa QB Drew Tate had an amazing season considering what he had to go through with this running game that averaged only 74.9 yards per game (yeah, that ranks dead last).

LSU brings in the nation's third best pass defense and is well known for it's blitz schemes and confusing coverages. They will test Drew Tate for everything he's worth. The Tigers corners can cover as well as anyone and due to Iowa's lack of run threat, the LSU safeties should be able to roam the defensive backfield freely.

As much as Iowa is expected to play LSU close, note that the Hawkeyes are a much different team away from home. Their 16.9 points allowed per game average goes up to 23.6 on the road but at least they get to face a LSU offense that's still struggling to find its identity.

With the coaching and offensive issues it's hard to go with LSU, but Iowa may not have enough to hold the 6 points they're being given. The over looks good here, but I question Iowa's ability to put more than 10 points up. The fact that Saban is going to the NFL may be the difference too. Unlike most of the other coaching changes, Nick has been able to devote his time solely with his Tigers.

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LSU -6

UPDATE: 30-25 Iowa. Great game. Iowa got points unconventionally. Should have stayed with the over. Nonetheless, this was exactly what a bowl game should be. And we'll be seeing that Drew Tate touchdown pass for years to come.

Gator Bowl Preview

Saturday, 1 January 2005 - 12:30pm
Jacksonville, Florida

Florida State (8-3) versus West Virginia (8-3)

The Chris Rix era finally comes to an end in Tallahassee. A moment of silence. How 'bout a win on the way out Chris? Just leave the Jeebus wrist band and the handicap parking permit behind so we can remember you.

The Mountaineers could probably not draw a less favorable matchup than this FSU team. On offense, West Virginia averaged 252.8 yards per game on the ground this season but they have shown that they can't do much against the better defenses in the country (Va Tech, BC, and Pitt). WVU scored 13, 17, and 13 points in their three losses and they will be facing the best run defense in the nation.

Make no mistake, teams were scared to run against FSU this season. In terms of raw yardage, FSU gave up 759 on the ground. The next best team (USC) gave up 913 on 24 fewer attempts.

The Noles' front seven on defense is filled with NFL talent, led by DT Travis Johnson. But they can be beat by teams who run straight ahead, with bruising RBs like Frank Gore and Ciatrick Fason. That's where this West Virginia matchup becomes interesting. Kay-Jay Harris is a big kid (240 lbs) from Florida who could move the pile against the Seminoles. WVU isn't used to seeing a defense this fast and will stumble if they try running QB options or sweeps to either corner.

To take 10 points against a Bobby Bowden coached team is crazy. He and his sons get real conservative when they have a lead. Actually, OC Jeff Bowden has been way too conservative ever since he was given the job. (A note to Jeff: Your playbook? Turn the page. Yeah, keep turning, you've got a lot of other stuff in there.) The Noles are 3-7-1 ATS this year but the under has hit 10 out of 11 times for them. It's become clear this season that Chris Rix is no longer the problem in Tallahassee. This is the poorest coached offensive group in the country. No one does so little, with so much, as the Seminoles.

FSU's defense has given up 11 touchdowns all season. That's an average of one per game. WVU will have to really make some crazy plays to even get to 14 points. The under (45) makes sense, I just worry about FSU blowing the Mountaineers out. You're better off teasing the 10 points down with the Bills on Sunday.

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FSU -3 and under 52 in a best bet 7 point teaser.
Under 45
FSU -10 is still a good pick too.

UPDATE: 30-18 FSU. Almost lost this one to a late WVU TD. Leon Washington averaged 16 yards a carry and they could only get him the ball 12 time?!? I love the AP lead to this recap: "Florida State overcame mistake after mistake to avoid an unprecedented third straight bowl loss." I am please to hear that Bowden is considering a major overhaul in his offensive philosophy. Hopefully, the idea of running 90% of your pass plays as max protect, two man patterns will be phased out of the system.

Cotton Bowl Preview

Saturday, 1 January 2005 - 11:00am
Dallas, Texas

Tennessee (9-3) versus Texas A&M (7-4)

It's not hard to imagine that the Aggies will be excited about playing in this one. Texas A&M comes into Dallas for their first bowl appearance since the 2001 season and they will get to play it in front of a very friendly Texas crowd. They do draw, however, a tough matchup in Tennessee.

Both teams battled through rough conference schedules, with two of the Vols' three losses coming against Auburn. Their other loss was a headscratcher to Notre Dame. Texas A&M couldn't get by Oklahoma, Texas, or Utah but also threw in a loss to Baylor to keep people wondering. The Aggies won just one game in their last four but with this game being played so close to home, they may be able to bring the 12th, 13th, and 14th man onto the field.

Aggie QB Reggie McNeal and WR Terrence Murphy are the difference makers in this game. Both are explosive and will need to continually make big plays happen to give their team a chance to win. Both the Vols and the Aggies can run on offense and stop the run on defense so it may be a close game. But if A&M gets up early, it would spell doom for Tennessee.

The Big 12 is 2-1 so far this bowl season while the SEC has gone 0-2 and has not looked very good either. Ultimately, Tennessee's defense really struggled in their last few games and they have a history of laying some fat eggs in bowl games. It's not clear how much QB Eric Ainge will play, if he does at all. If he sits out, this one could be easy for A&M, who went 6-3 ATS versus bowl teams this year.

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Texas A&M -4 in a best bet.

UPDATE: 140-0 Tennessee. "It's not hard to imagine that the Aggies will be excited about playing in this one." Yep.

Outback Bowl Preview

Saturday, 1 January 2005 - 11:00am
Tampa, Florida

Georgia (9-2) versus Wisconsin (9-2)

Happy New Year from Tampa.

Wisconsin burned me last month when I went with them over Iowa. Right at gametime, Barry Alvarez said that RB Anthony Davis would dress, but not play. Um, thanks Barry. The Badgers were nothing without him and it exposed the weakness of their quarterback, John Stocco, by making him throw the ball on nearly every down.

As long as Wisconsin is able to keep Davis running, they should keep this game close. Those crazy cheese people love coming down to Florida for New Year's day and the weather should be about 72 and partly cloudy at kickoff.

Georgia's David Greene burned LSU's man defense in the Bulldogs' huge win over the Tigers on October 2nd. Wisconsin will have to keep changing things up on defense to beat a veteran like Greene. Badger coach Alvarez usually brings his team prepared to play their bowl games. Before last season's 28-14 loss to Auburn, Wisconsin had won four straight bowl games. It's a bit of a long shot, but here's hoping they can at least keep it close. Georgia was a meager 4-6 ATS this season while the Badgers ended up 7-4. Both teams prefer going under the total (7/10, and 8/11) but with the line at

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Wisconsin +8

UPDATE: 24-21 Georgia. A wild one that Wisconsin could have ended up stealing at the end. Instead, the Bulldogs failed to cover by running out the clock on the Badger 15.

Peach Bowl Preview

Friday, 31 December 2004 - 7:30pm
Atlanta, Georgia

Miami (8-3) versus Florida (7-4)

After a stormy Friday on the Beach, this one's gonna have to be short. Miami really has nothing to play for here. They closed out their year with three losses in their last five games. I also heard this morning on Gameday that there were rumors about some Miami players may not be too interested in this matchup.

While teams in coaching transition have struggled this bowl season (Notre Dame, Miami) I think the Florida situation is a different one. They have to be excited about the opportunity to play for Urban Meyer. They also should be pretty motivated to make Brock Berlin pay for this.

This game's in the Georgia Dome, a place the Gators expect to be every year for the SEC Championship game. Forget the streaks that Miami has against it's in state rivals. Both UF and FSU have been on the down for the past 4 years. Out of the big three, the Gators are now the team on the rise.

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Florida +4

UPDATE: 27-10 Miami. Good thing there were only 4 games today. The Beach would have been forced to close early otherwise.

Liberty Bowl Preview

Friday, 31 December 2004 - 3:30pm
Memphis, Tennessee

Boise State (11-0) versus Louisville (10-1)

If this game was played during the first week of the bowl season, Louisville would have probably won it big. But several factors have nudged their way into the arena of the Liberty Bowl that should raise some doubt.

First of all, Louisville has an excellent head coach who seems to have this problem of looking at the next hottest girl who walks into the room. And his current girlfriend is starting to notice it too. Bobby Petrino has officially earned the reputation of a coach slut. He seems to be involved in every job opportunity in the country. And that wouldn't be so bad if he hadn't just renewed his vows with his current relationship. Some Cardinals fans are calling for Petrino to be fired!! That's how bad things have gotten.

The other factor I'm concerned about is that there has been so much build up to this game, how could it possibly go as expected? Either Boise State is going to pull a huge upset or this is going to end up a low scoring (relatively speaking) game. Something strange just has to happen here and when you're trying to earn peanuts, that's not a good thing. Almost every time I read or listen to someone talking about this game, they're picking Louisville. When all of the bowl matchups were first announced, I saw this one and immediately called it my best bet. But that's why you always have to wait until gametime. Anything can and will happen. The concern here is that EVERYONE is taking the Cardinals. EVERYONE knows they matchup very well against Boise State. And EVERYONE usually includes the players involved too. That's a dangerous thing to believe during Bowl Week.

But maybe factor one and factor two can have something to do with each other. Maybe all this crap about their head coach will galvanize the Louisville players into proving a point. Who knows. But all this uncertainty has removed this game from my best bet column. Still, Louisville will be able to run the ball against Boise State. Don't be fooled by the Broncos' 4th best rushing defense in the country. That's a stat that doesn't tell the whole story. Boise St. has faced 323 rushing attempts all season long, a number which is by far the least amount of attempts any Division 1-A school has seen. Their rushing yards per attempt is very low, at 2.8, but they've given up 14 rushing touchdowns, which is right near the middle of the pack. What that translates to me is that Boise State's defense has yet to be tested for 60 minutes on the ground. They faced three Bowl teams this season, Oregon State, UTEP, and Hawaii. All three of those teams choose to pass the ball much more often than they throw it.

Louisville has a nicely balanced offense, led by Stefan LeFors' 74% completion percentage. But they've got two big time running backs in Eric Shelton and Michael Bush and the Cardinals should win this game on the strength of their ground game. When LeFors looks to throw, he'll be facing a defense that plays a ton of man coverage. That's not good for Boise State.

The only thing the Broncos can hope to happen is for Louisville to be overconfident and/or more interested in their head coach's job status than stopping the Boise State offense. But even if both of those factors turns turn out to be true, that should only level the playing field. The Cardinals have dropped two straight Bowl games, against Miami (Ben Roethlisberger) and Marshall (Byron Leftwich). Boise State is 15-0 in games shown on ESPN or ESPN2 and have won all five of their school's bowl games. They're also on a 22 game winning streak and have won 35 of their last 36. Their coach, Dan Hawkins, is an amazing 44-6 at BSU.

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Louisville, cautiously at -11

UPDATE: 44-40 Louisville. It's rare that a game actually lives up to expectations. Exciting stuff. The Cardinals were way too over confident in the first half and they gave away too many points, but they came out in the second and got it done. UL teased with the over would have been a better choice for me. But it was worth it just watching a game like this.

Sun Bowl Preview

Friday, 31 December 2004 - 2:00pm
El Paso, Texas

When Cal trounced Arizona State 27-0 on October 30th, it wasn't Aaron Rodgers' arm that led the Bears to victory, it was the 192 yards on 30 J.J. Arrington carries that put the Sun Devils down. So when Purdue's Kyle Orton lines up against ASU's defense, watch out for the RB duo of Jerod Void and Brandon Jones. Arizona State has been solid against the run this season, giving up an average of 128.1 ypg finishing 35th overall. But that Cal game weighs heavily in my opinion here because Purdue will probably come out on Friday and look to do the same kinds of things on offense. If ASU becomes too concerned with Orton and star WR Taylor Stubblefield (82 catches, 1014 yards, and 15 TDs in case you haven't noticed), they'll gonna get beat by Boilermaker coach Joe Tiller's committment to the run.

Arizona State will be without their quarterback and leader, Andrew Walter. In his place, sophomore Sam Keller will take the snaps and he is said to come in with a great deal of talent and poise. He did go 8 for 13 with 94 yards and a touchdown against Mike Stoops' Arizona team after Walter was injured, but it wasn't enough to avoid the Wildcats upset. But even if Walter was playing, I'd be leaning towards Purdue because Orton should finally be healthy (522 yards against Indiana) and the 2004 Boilmakers seem just about unbeatable when that is true.

It's Big Ten versus Pac 10 here, but maybe more importantly, it's senoir QB versus sophomore QB. Keller will probably put up an impressive game, but I don't think it will be enough to win. He will hopefully play well enough to lead this game over the total (55.5). ASU's defensive coordinator is in his last game before he leaves for the head coaching job at Utah State and their All-Pac 10 strong safety will be out too.

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Purdue -0.5 and over 49 in a 6.5 point tease as a best bet. At one time this season Purdue was ranked #5 in the country and while that was a little too high, they come in unranked versus #21 ASU and should have something to prove in El Paso.

Also, give me Purdue -7 and over 55.5 as I look to get above .500 with this game (and yet still fear falling hopelessly behind).

UPDATE: 27-23 ASU. Purdue should get the award for worst playing calling ever. What the hell were they doing in the first quarter? In the entire game, really, but the first quarter especially.

Music City Bowl Preview

Friday, 31 December 2004 - 12:00pm
Nashville, Tennessee

Alabama (6-5) versus Minnesota (6-5)

From now on, when I don't like either side of a game (Cal) I'm just gonna pick the over. To some surprise, all four games from Thursday went over the total.

This one is a matchup of a Big Ten team who struggled down the stretch winning just one of their last six games, versus a SEC team that lost three of it's last four. Most of the losses for both teams have come at the hands of ranked teams, mostly due to the inadequancies of the Gophers and Crimson Tide offenses. Neither group averaged over 200 yards per game passing this season.

While the trend on Thursday was for the run-first teams (Navy, New Mexico, Troy, Northern Illinois) to come out throwing that ball, the Music City Bowl should actually turn out as expected. On the Alabama side, they'll need to run because they will be starting their third quarterback this season; after losing starter Brodie Croyle to injury. The problem isn't that their current starter, junior Spencer Pennington, is young and inexperienced, it just seems as though he's not very good. The Tide offense has been limited when he's behind center and they probably would have had a better chance at beating Auburn had Croyle been in the game. Pennington will, however, have a couple of things going for him in this game: 1) he faces a Gopher pass defense that was ranked 112th this season and gave up 300 yards to Wisconsin's John Stocco, and 2) he has stepped into an offense that was already a one dimensional, run-first, protect the quarterback system.

It's too bad 'Bama never faced Virginia this season because the Cavs and the Gophers look very similar on paper. Minnesota has a nice running back tandem, a QB who looks to roll outside of the pocket, and a less than stellar pass defense. They're facing a Tide defense that led the nation for most of the season in yards allowed per game. They ended up 2nd overall and had a dominating pass defense that gave one of the best QBs in the country (Jason Campbell) a ton of problems in the first half of the Auburn game. Bama also shouldn't be too scared of running back tandems as they held the nation's best duo (Brown and Williams) to just 3.4 yards a carry against the Tigers.

Minnesota only won 1 game outside of their dome this season and that was early in the year against Colorado State. Also, all 5 of their losses came against Big Ten rivals so I'm not too sure if they can win against an SEC team. So assuming Alabama plays well fundamentally, they should win in a close one. This one's a toss up, however, and I haven't seen to many experts coming out with any confidence with a pick in this game.

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Alabama -1

UPDATE: 20-16 Minnesota. Check out this box score. The Gophers ran the ball like 80 times today.

Silicon Valley Bowl

Thursday, 30 December 2004 - 11:00pm
San Jose, California

Troy (7-4) versus Northern Illinois (8-3)

Southern California is being drenched with rain and that usually means that the team with the better passing game wins. Just look at what Navy did to New Mexico, and what Texas Tech has done to Cal in the first half of the Holiday Bowl. Northern Illinois has by far the more balanced offense with QB Josh Haldi and RB Garrett Wolfe. Troy lost it's quarterback, Aaron Leak, two months ago and will start a true freshman in their first ever bowl appearance. Since playing on a sloppy field turns into a disadvantage for the defensive backs, I feel the need to ignore NIU's pitiful schedule. And while I'm sure these are both fine schools, with excellent young men excited about being in a bowl game, this game only really deserves one paragraph.

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Northern Illinois +3

UPDATE: 34-21 Northern Illinois.

Current 2004 Beach Bowl record 8-10, 1-0 in best bets. Regular season college football 23-15, pro 44-31, 75-56 overall.

Holiday Bowl Preview

Thursday, 30 December 2004 - 8:00pm
San Diego, California

Texas Tech (7-4) versus California (10-1)

As we get closer to New Year's day, breaking down what each team does becomes less important here. That's a good thing too because there are just as many games in the next two and a half days as there were the last two weeks.

Anyone who follows college football knows that Texas Tech will spread their receivers out and throw a lot of short and mid-range passes to drive down the field. The 2004 Cal Bears are known for their future NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but they also have a good defense. And of course the big question mark surrounding this game is whether or not the Bears will show to play after their BCS snub.

There's just been so much press for this game, it doesn't feel like there's anything new to add. Cal needs to run the ball as much as they can. The more they run it, the better I think they'll do. With such a big line, I'd normally be inclined to stay away from this one but I've made a choice to make a pick on every bowl game so here goes.

Cal will win, and I'll take them minus the 10 because I think they'll be able to run very well with a second half lead. In Texas Tech's four losses this season, they scored 24 at New Mexico, 13 at Oklahoma, 21 versus Texas, and 25 at Texas A&M. Based on that, I expect them to put up around 21 points against the Bears, which means Cal can fall 5 points under their season average for points scored (37.27) and still cover this spread. I would tease it with the over, but I question the Red Raiders' ability to put up 30 against a defense as athletic as California's.

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California -10

UPDATE: 45-31 Texas Tech. Another one saved at half time. Cal was never really competitive in this one. I know, Aaron Rodgers was without his two top WRs, but I think he could have had Jerry Rice and Randy Moss out there with him and he still would look like a skinny Rex Grossman minus about three times Rex's intensity. If he ends up coming out this year, it's a mistake.

Emerald Bowl Preview

Thursday, 30 December 2004 - 4:30pm
San Francisco, California

New Mexico (7-4) versis Navy (9-2)

There are 117 teams in Division I-A College Football. In terms of pass offense, Navy ranks 116th and New Mexico ranks 115th. This game may come in under 2 hours.

In a battle of two run-first schools, you have to look at the special teams. New Mexico PK Wes Kunker as gone 11 for 16 in FG attempts and punter has put 25 kicks inside the opponents' 20 yard line this season. For Navy, well, they should just go for it on fourth downs. Their place kicker, Geoff Blumenfeld, is 3 for 10 on field goal attempts this year. Their punter, Eric Shuey, will also have to do better than his 36.7 yards per punt average in this game to give his team a chance.

Where Navy starts it's drives will be a key to their success. They face the 8th best run defense in the nation and that number means more to me considering New Mexico hasn't played in many games where they were holding big leads. In fact, all but one of their 7 wins this season have been by less than a two score margin. Sure Navy is the third best rushing team in the country (averaging 291.4 a game) and they have the best amateur fullback in Kyle Eckel, so they will get some yards. But if they are consistently starting drives deep in their own territory, I don't see how they can manage more than a couple of scores.

The Midshipmen will probably need at least three touchdowns to win this one too because their defense is going to struggle against the Lobos' power running attack. The only other time this season Navy faced a team with this kind of offense was when they got booted 27-9 by Notre Dame. New Mexico has an experienced RB in Dontrell Moore and should find success moving the ball on the ground against the undersized Navy defensive front.

The concern for New Mexico will be stopping Navy's option. The only time they saw it consistenly run against them this season was in early October against Air Force. The Falcons ran to a 28-23 home victory in that match and that should give Navy some confidence going into this game. But with almost a month to prepare, I expect the 3-3-5 Lobo defense to contain the option just enough. They can use their two strong safeties to contain the outside pitch and let the rest of the front 6 worry about stopping Eckel.

At minus three points, New Mexico is a slight favorite and that may be a little too much in a game that will probably not feature a lot of touchdowns. But the special teams and field position factors should be enough to lift New Mexico to their first bowl win since 1961.

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New Mexico -3

UPDATE: 34-19 Navy. When losing your only true offensive playmaker before halftime, get out fast.

Continental Tire Bowl Preview

Thursday, 30 December 2004 - 1:00pm
Charlotte, North Carolina

Boston College (8-3) versus North Carolina (6-5)

Call this the 2004 Broken QB Hand Bowl Part III as BC's signal caller Paul Peterson comes into this one with a newly repaired right hand. Peterson was forced to sit out the Eagles' final game of the regular season and it probably cost his team the Big East Championship. He's said to be healed and is expected to start. Bowl teams with broken hand quarterbacks are 1-1 this season.

North Carolina will be facing a ranked team for the 7th time this season when they line up on Thursday against Boston College. The Tar Heels have been tested this year, but they're just 1-5 in their six games against ranked opponents.

Both teams come in with impressive bowl streaks. The Eagles have won a bowl game in each of the last four years. No other team has done so during that time period. But the Tar Heels have a five game bowl winning streak going too, with wins coming in 1995, 96, 97, 98, and 2001. North Carolina will also have a home field advantage, as they play this game across the state of North Carolina, in Charlotte.

In between the lines, BC should be able to run the ball against a Tar Heels defense that gives up an average of 217.5 yards per game. When UNC upset the Hurricanes on October 30th, Miami's leading rusher had only 8 carries. Don't expect them to be so lucky against this BC team that is at it's best when it's using the run to set up the pass. Both teams should gain plenty of yards, but when it comes to scoring points, the Eagles have the edge.

North Carolina's best chance is to take advantage of a home crowd like they did against Miami. There is concern that BC won't be up for playing a consolation game in a hostile environment, but if you believe their coach, they may still have something to prove.

"Our best player didn't play (against Syracuse),'' Tom O'Brien said. ``He was standing next to me on the sidelines. It would have made a difference and he will make a difference on the 30th of December."

Okay, okay. Just please, back up a step. I'm picking BC.

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Boston College +2

UPDATE: 37-24 BC. Broken Hand Teams are now 2-1 this bowl season.

Houston Bowl Preview

Wednesday, 29 December 2004 - 4:30pm
Houston, Texas

Colorado (7-5) versus UTEP (8-3)

UTEP is one of those teams that I never thought I'd see on television. But here they are in a bowl game and if I tune my receiver to ESPN at 4:30pm on Wednesday, sploosh! Most of the press for this game centers around the scandals of UTEP Coach Mike Price and Colorado Coach Gary Barnett. The two are apparently friends and have 'leaned on each other' during their tough times.

Beyond that, this is a typical bowl matchup of a middle of the pack, big conference team (UC) versus a top, small conference school (UTEP). So far this bowl season two teams from the WAC (Wyoming and Fresno State) have knocked off a team from the Pac-10 (UCLA) and a team from the ACC (Virginia). On the flip side, Georgia Tech walked over Syracuse so we'll call this matchup at 2-1 in favor of the small conferences so far.

This game could continue that trend. UTEP was 2-11 last season but they have really turned things around under Price's guidance. They've got some players at the wide receiver position and also have Jordan Palmer (Carson's brother) at QB. The Miners seem to have a competent defense and they're facing a Buffalo team that is pretty average on offense. Colorado QB Joel Klatt has a good arm but he doesn't make the best decisions, in part because he doesn't have much to throw to. UC will need a great game from RB Bobby Purify and their offensive line to stay competitive against UTEP.

The crowd in Houston should be in UTEP's favor and this game is a big deal to the Miners and their fans. For Colorado, the Houston Bowl is leftovers from their 42-3 loss in the Big 12 Championship. And I don't know if there are any other teams in a bowl game that have given up more touchdowns this season than they have scored (25-36). Gary Barnett has a reputation for losing big games and it just doesn't look like they have the defense or the motivation to stay with Texas El-Paso.

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UPDATE: 33-28 Colorado.

Alamo Bowl Preview

Wednesday, 29 December 2004 - 8:00pm
San Antonio, Texas

Oklahoma State (7-4) versus Ohio State (7-4)

While this may look like a battle of two traditional, run first offenses, don't be surprised if Ohio State comes out in the first quarter and spreads the field with three and four receivers. That's because their quarterback for this game will be pocket passer Justin Zwick, who enters as the starter after Troy Smith was suspended for receiving an undisclosed 'benefit' from a local Columbus businessman.

Zwick went 3-3 in his first 6 starts with the Buckeyes this season, but he was hurt in the Iowa match and replaced by Smith. More of a scrambling style QB, Smith led OSU to 4 wins in their last 5 games with his legs (339 yards) and his arm (896 yards). There is a chance, however, that his suspension may be a good thing for Ohio State. After Zwick went down, the Buckeyes found a playmaker in Teddy Ginn, Jr. and his presence in the starting lineup helped open things up for Smith, Santonio Thomas, and the entire Ohio State offense. This will be the first game this year that Zwick will have two real threats at wide receiver and he could do some damage.

Oklahoma State has shown this season that they can be beaten by the controlled passing game. Most recently, Texas Tech took them for a 15-31 loss in the Cowboys' last regular season game. Bob Stoops' Sooners also put up 30+ points in OU's 38-35 victory at OSU. So with Zwick, Ginn, and Thomas the Buckeyes could create some plays against a Cowboys' defense that ranks 74th against the pass, 73rd against the run, and 70th overall.

On offense, Oklahoma State will run, run, run, and then look to hit a big play deep. If that doesn't work, they'll go back to the running until they see the safeties playing close to the line of scrimmage again. They averaged an amazing 245 rushing yards per game this year. The Buckeyes defense is tough, but it's not as unbeatable as it's been in years past. They gave up 176 yards on 39 carries from Wisconsin's Anthony Davis back in October and Cowboy running back Vernand Morency has enjoyed a great season in the Big 12 shadow of Adrian Peterson and Cedric Benson. Morency averaged 5.3 yards per carry this season for 1454 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The key for both teams will be getting out to an early lead. In those four Buckeye victories that Smith led OSU to, they got up early and held a lead at the half. If they do come out throwing, this game could really be decided in the first 15 minutes because the Cowboys don't have the passing game to play from behind. But if Ohio State can't make anything happen early, they will play right into the hands of Oklahoma State's game plan.

It could be argued too that Ohio State has already played it's bowl game (against Michigan) and may not be as motivated to come to Texas and play what is essentially for them a big time road game. They do have the edge in special teams with Ginn returning kicks and with their award winning PK Mike Nugent.

This is a tough game to call, but so far this bowl season the underdogs have held their own by winning 4 of 10. Ohio State scored some big wins down the stretch and if I had to pick a winner here, I'd pick OSU. And I'd be right too. But give me the Ohio OSU and the points.

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Ohio State +3.5 but with very little confidence.

UPDATE: 33-7 Ohio State. Even though I was unsure about the outcome, I'll take the win because everything I said about Ohio State was true. Justin Zwick came to play and there was much more to the Ohio State turnaround than just Troy Smith. Look out for the Buckeyes in 2005.

Current Beach Bowl record 6-8, 1-0 in best bets. Regular season college 23-15, pro 44-31, 73-54 overall.

Insight Bowl Preview

Tuesday, 28 December 2004 - 6:45pm
Phoenix, Arizona

Oregon State (6-5) versus Notre Dame (6-5)

Even if the Irish didn't have to deal with questions regarding their interim head coach and their future head coach, they would be an underdog in this game. Oregon State won't have Chad Johnson and TJ Houzshmanzaddddda this time around, but they will at least be in Arizona when they face Notre Dame again in a Bowl game. In January of 2001, the Beavers ran 41 points up on the Irish at the Fiesta Bowl. Tonight, OSU quarterback Derek Anderson will have plenty of opportunities to throw against the 114th rated pass defense in the nation.

Anderson will need those chances too, because there are few who think the Beavers are going to be able to get any yards on the ground, including OSU Head Coach Mike Riley. "We're not going to beat our heads against the wall," Riley said to the.Associated Press in reference to the proposition of facing the 9th best rush defense in the NCAA.

Everything I've read about this game makes me think the line should be at least a touchdown. Oregon State finished their season with 5 wins in their last six games (only loss to USC by 8). The weather report looks great in Phoenix and the Beavers should be able to throw the ball around at will. For all the grief this Notre Dame secondary has gotten this season, they really haven't done too much to prove their doubters wrong. Matt Leinhart spent the first quarter of his time against the Irish throwing passes that should have been picked off. But Notre Dame wasn't able to take advantage and Leinhart eventually regained his accuracy and USC rolled 41-10.

As much as I'd love to see OSU kicker Alexis Serna come in with three seconds left and nail a 48 yarder to win, 1) that wouldn't cover the spread and, 2) this game shouldn't be that close. Notre Dame's only chance to win is to control the clock on the ground but they're facing a Beaver defense that can consistently man up their DBs in single coverage and play the run with 8 defenders.

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Oregon State -3.5 in one of the best plays of the postseason. Buy it down to -3 to be cautious, but there shouldn't be any need to do that. I'm guessing the high volume of action that ND generates is keeping this line closer than it should be.

UPDATE: 38-21 OSU.

Independence Bowl Preview

Tuesday, 28 December 2004 - 6:45pm
Shreveport, LA

Miami (OH) (8-4) versus Iowa State (6-5)

While this is the first of a handful of bowl games that will feature an outgoing or already departed head coach, I don't expect Terry Hoeppner's exodus from Miami to have a negative impact on his team.

This is still a tough game to call because the Miami Redhawks stumbled through a mediocre 2004 schedule while the Iowa State Cyclones played every bit like the inconsistent, young team they are. Miami has an edge in every individual matchup and should be able to create mismatches in the Cyclone secondary. The equalizer in this one is turnovers. Iowa State (14th in the nation with a +0.82 ratio) needs to force them to be competitive and Miami (101st with -0.75) has been prove to giving them up in their big losses.

There is a ton of emotion involved in this game. On Miami's side, they're playing one last game for their coach. Iowa State, meanwhile, is looking to redeem themselves of their disappointing 14-17 Missouri loss that cost them a chance to play Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship.

This is the kind of game I'd normally pass on, but the line is small and something tells me that Miami is going to win this one.

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Miami -2

UPDATE: Wow, just before kickoff, the Miami AD announced in front of the entire team their new head coach. Offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery got the job and the locker room erupted in cheer upon hearing the news. Watching it on tv, I got more than just a little fired up too. This Miami pick looks better now. What a great motivating tool for a team. We'll see how it plays out.

UPDATE UPDATE: 17-13 Iowa State. So much for that.

Monday Football

I'm not calling the Eagles February hopes over just because they've lost TO, but I don't think they're gonna have much fight in them tonight if the Rams get out to an early lead. The Rams are only 4-10 ATS this season but they seem to play better at home, where they're 4-2 overall and 2-4 ATS. St Louis needs this game to keep their playoff hopes alive and there's also talk that Koy Detmer and Jeff Blake could see action in the second half. This Toledo game looks out of hand so I'm looking to make up for the two upsets today by going with the favorite here. Sure it's desperate, but make it St. Louis -3. Yahoo

UPDATE: Just another note on this game: if the Rams make the playoffs, chances are that it'll be at the expense of the Panthers. Wouldn't the Eagles rather see these Rams come into Philly in a couple of weeks than those nasty Carolina kids? I'm not saying the players are thinking that, but maybe it entered Andy Reid's mind when he was deciding how long he intended to play McNabb and Westbrook.
  • The Colts stumbled in Week 16 last season at home against Denver. Their performance yesterday reminded me a lot of that game. The Chargers were able to pressure Manning with just 4 and sometimes 5 rushers. The 3-4 defense seems to give this offense more problems than a typical 4-3 in part because it's less cover 2 and in part because it contains that stretch run they like to run with Edgerrin. Still, Indy winning this game should give them a ton of confidence. This really could be one of those seasons where a team can win the Super Bowl with just an average defense (Rams).
  • Len Pasquarelli puts in another good column this week. Notes on the Vikes, Pennington, Plummer, and much more.
  • PFBW's Whispers are solid this week too. But most of the info in there is long term related.
  • Someone please let me put some peanuts down on the Bills next week. I can't wait.
UPDATE: Current 2004 Beach ATS record: 23-15 college regular season, 4-6 college bowls, 44-31 in pro football, 71-52 overall.

Motor City Bowl Preview

Monday, 27 December 2004 - 5:30pm
Detroit, Michigan

Toledo (9-3) versus Connecticut (7-4)

UConn has been a Division I-A team for only four years now and they're already in their first Bowl game. This program has advanced very quickly and the Huskies even finished with a respectable 3-3 record their first year inside the Big East. The highlight of their season came in late September when they defeated Pitt 29-17 at home. But UConn lost their four other games against Bowl teams (Ga Tech, Syracuse, BC, and West Virginia) and will probably struggle to contain the Toledo offense in this matchup.

The Rockets are one of the many teams in the MAC that use a spread offense to force teams into putting 5 and 6 DBs on the field to make them vulnerable against the run. It's a very difficult offense to stop unless you are a top recruiting school in a big conference and it's the perfect offense to play against teams like UConn. The Huskies strength on defense is in their linebackers, so if they are going to be competitive in this game, the LBs are going to have to cover the middle of the field effectively.

Without RB Scouter McDougle (knee injury), there is concern that Toledo won't be able to get the 4 yards per rush they need to avoid long third downs. The Rockets were a good rushing offense down their season's stretch and McDougle was probably their best player in comeback victories over Bowling Green and Miami (OH). Without him, the Rockets will need juniors Trinity Dawson or Quinton Broussard or even freshman Jalen Parmele to step up with some good runs. The Rockets' offensive line is experienced and should provide opportunities for McDougle's replacements.

Rockets QB Bruce Gradkowski is playing this one three weeks removed from surgery to his broken throwing hand. He suffered that and a left shoulder separation before halftime of Toledo's MAC Championship game and still threw 3 second half touchdowns to his favorite target Lance Moore. Just going by what Gino Guidugli did in the freezing temperatures of the Forth Worth Bowl, I'm not too concerned about Gradkowski. The Rockets use playaction to open up their big plays downfield and their QB shouldn't feel too much pressure from this Huskie defense that only registered 19 sacks all season.

The Rockets are 7-1 in Bowl Games and they have been to the Motor City Bowl three times in the last four years. If Scooter were available for this one, it would be an easy pick. But without him, my biggest concern is Toledo's ability to hit the big pass deep if UConn's defense doesn't have to worry about stopping the run. Huskie QB Dan Orlovsky is probably a little better NFL prospect than Gradkowski, but he faces a team that has beaten a couple of talented quarterbacks in the last two months (Miami's Josh Betts and Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs).

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Toledo -3

UPDATE: 39-10 UConn

Toledo never had a chance. Their QB's hand wasn't ready for action and they got down too much, too early to ever be in it. Thank you real world for half-time bets. When are you coming to the Beach?

MPC Computers Bowl Preview

Monday, 27 December 2004 - 2pm
Boise, Idaho

Virginia (8-3) versus Fresno State (8-3)

During the early weeks of this college football season, Fresno State was a team that earned a lot of attention as a possible undefeated, BCS bowl buster (ala Bosie State). The Bulldogs started the year with wins at Washington and at Kansas State. But then they suffered three straight losses (at La Tech, vs UTEP, and at Boise St.) and everyone in college football realized that this team wasn't as good as some people thought. Fresno does have the ability to put up points and they scored no less than 42 in the five games following their losing streak. Yet, those victories came against opponents with a combined record of 23-35 and it's pretty clear that Fresno State is not the kind of team that can compete with a talented, big conference school like UVA.

The Cavaliers are somewhere in the middle of a transition that could, in the next few years, see them become a perennial contender for the ACC Championship. Head Coach Al Groh has put together a group of kids that has shown they can dominate their less talented opponents (Temple, Akron, Syracuse, Duke) but not quite yet compete against the top three in the ACC (FSU, Miami, and Va Tech). And Fresno State is nothing like Florida State. The Cavs have every matchup advantage and the only reason I can think of to explain this line being less than a touchdown is this talk that UVA may come out flat because they're in a small name bowl game. Al Groh is a tough coach, and he won't let them take anyone lightly.

Fresno State has experience on the blue turf (if that even means anything) and they also have knocked off big schools in their last two Bowl games (UCLA in 03 and Ga Tech in 04). But those were young, inexperienced teams the Bulldogs faced in the nearby Silicon Valley Bowl and this time around they are facing a more powerful Virginia team in the cold terrain of Idaho. I'm tempted to take the under here as well, but officially I'll just stay with the Cavs.

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Virginia -5


Fresno showed a great ability to drive the football and stay patient when playing from behind. It looked like UVA let up a bit once they got that 14 point lead before the half and the Bulldogs made them pay. The officiating was pretty bad but at least it was consistently bad for both teams. Paul Pinegar doesn't have a great arm, but he looks like he's got everything else you need to be a solid NFL quarterback one day.

Sunday Juice

Pick around: ESPN - Yahoo - Peter King - CBS - Vinny Iyer - PFBW - Gil Brandt - Bill Simmons

Late the other night I had the tv on in the background and it ended up on some story on the NFL Network about religion in the NFL. I wasn't really paying too much attention but I do remember a number of comments that Reggie White had said in regards to how players in the NFL today use their religion publicly. I also heard White describe his rercent interest in the ancient Hebrew religious texts. I remember thinking 'what an interesting story this is, I'd like to hear more about what has happened in his life recently.'

Today, Reggie is gone and as everyone around the NFL begins to reflect on this, the impact of his life will be felt throughout the league not just today, but for a very long time.

On to the picks:

  • New England -1 at New York Jets - The Pats defense has been torn apart the last two weeks, and their loss to Miami wasn't totally out of the blue for me. The Jets are a good team, but with Pennington's shoulder injury I don't think he can consistently test New England deep like Carson Palmer and AJ Feeley did. More than anything else, how often is it that you get to take NE at less than a field goal? Yahoo - ESPN
  • Indianapolis -7 versus San Diego - Ed Werder reported this morning that Tony Dungy said to him that he didn't think the Chargers were "an elite team." Tony and I agree on this. San Diego will have to play a very smart game on offense to keep this one close. But they haven't shown me much over their last four games. They're winning games, but I don't like how they are doing it. I've been waiting for them to lose for over a month now. Today should be that day. If the Chargers have a weakness, it's their pass defense. They're a good team, but there's not much chance they can stay with this Colts team today. The Pats loss in Miami has opened a small window of opportunity for the rest of the AFC to make a move up. Yahoo - ESPN
  • Carolina +3 at Tampa Bay - I am really tempted to take the Panthers here but this is exactly the kind of game the Bucs will come out and surprise everyone. Ever since their Super Bowl win, I've been terrible at picking Buc games. The Panthers are three point favorites and I'm sure a lot of people going with Carolina are scratching their heads about that line. It's been at 3 all week, so there are people out there taking the Bucs. I just don't think they're talking about it. All that said, take the over 39 here.
  • Detroit -6 versus Chicago - The Bears have scored 8 total points in their last two games. Joey Harrington has gotten into a bit of a groove lately, thanks in part to the Lions' new emphasis on running the ball. The only reason the Bears have won six games so far this season is because their defense has been tenacious. With two games left on the schedule and the injuries mounting (Ulracher, Ogunleye), this looks like another Chicago loss before they go home to finish the season against the Packers. Detroit is 4-1 ATS in their last five overall and against Chicago. Yahoo - ESPN
  • Over 46, Cincinnati/New York - The Bengals score a ton at home and the Giants give up a ton everywhere. I expect the new offense in NY to help Eli again keep this one close. This matchup has gone over five out of their last five. Yahoo - ESPN
UPDATE: A 2-2 record doesn't feel deserved this week. The Chargers did finally lose, the Bengals went for 2 inside the last minute and missed, Detroit gave up a backdoor push, and Carolina ended up rolling. I'm usually a fan of using point teasers but this week I stayed away from that and payed for it.


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